What are the Best Cooking Oils?
By: Dr. Peggy Malone
In my recent health workshop, there were a lot of questions about fats, healthy fats, oils and which oils should be eaten or used to cook with.
There is much confusion and misunderstanding on this topic so I want to clear it up so you can get cooking!
What is a Smoke Point?
First of all, let’s learn about something called a ‘smoke point’. This is also known as the flash point and it is the temperature when an oil goes from good to bad. It is the temperature at which the oil begins to break down and produce bluish smoke. When an oil reaches it’s smoke point, the nutrients begin to oxidize. The molecular structure changes and the oil breaks down into unhealthy compounds.
So which oils can you heat up and stay healthy at the same time?
This oil can withstand the heat! It has one of the highest smoke points at 510 degrees!
It is also full of healthy fats. You can use this oil for sautéing, frying, baking. It is also great in dressings.
This oil is full of good-for-you fats and has a high smoke point of about 495 degrees. Almond oil is great for all sorts of cooking, and also works great in desserts because of its natural almond flavor.
Healthy Oils for Low-to-Medium Heat Cooking
There are some oils that you should use because they have great nutrition and they are super good for you but they have a bit of a lower smoke point.
This is one of my favourite oils for almost everything in my kitchen. Coconut oil is nearly a completely saturated fat and is solid at room temperature. It has been the star of the oil world in the last few years as it has been shown to promote many health benefits.
Coconut oil can withstand the heat for most recipes. It has a high smoke point of about 350 degrees. I use it in my kitchen for anything from baking to cooking eggs to making a stir fry (on medium heat). Yum!
Extra-virgin olive oil:
This is an oil that most people are familiar with and many people use it for almost everything in their kitchen. Olive oil is a great source of healthy monounsaturated fats, which help control cholesterol levels and have been linked with good heart health. It shouldn’t be used for cooking at high temperatures though because at temperatures over 400 degrees it can begin to oxidize which may not be good for your body. (It has a smoke point of 420 degrees.) So if you’ve been using this oil to fry or sauté, it’s time to switch to one of the high heat stable oils that I mentioned above.
This oil is great for low to medium cooking and even better to drizzle over salads or over veggies just before you serve them after they are already cooked.
Sesame seed oil:
This oil has a nice rich nutty flavor and a smoke point of 410 degrees. Best used for light sautéing and low-heat baking. It has a nice light flavor great for low to medium heat stir-fries. I love it as an ingredient in my salad dressing.
We have been brainwashed to think that butter is bad for us but pastured butter (smoke point of 350 degrees) and saturated animal fats (lard has a smoke point of 370 degrees) are stable to cook with at medium temperature!
Healthy Oils Shouldn’t be Used for Cooking
Many oils are very good for you, but break down more easily when exposed to light, heat, and air, which means they’re not as healthy for cooking. Use these cold over salads, or in shakes, or drizzled over veggies that are already cooked.
These include: Grapeseed oil, Evening Primrose oil, Flaxseed oil, and Hemp oil.
Oils that May Have Negative Health Effects and That you should Remove from your Kitchen.
Especially in the last 20 years, we have been marketed to and conditioned to believe that many oils that we think would be healthy actually are not.
In general, it is my recommendation to always avoid soy unless it is fermented and this recommendation includes avoiding soybean oil. This oil is high in omega-6 fats, which aren’t necessarily bad for you, but Americans as a whole are eating too many, which can lead to health problems. Sources for soybean oil are likely GMO crops, and most options are highly processed with chemicals. This oil is in pretty much everything processed. If you are eating a ‘real food’ diet, you won’t be exposed to this but make sure you are reading labels to avoid this oil as much as possible.
It has a high smoke point, is a great source of vitamin E, and most of its fat is unsaturated. In packaged foods, however, it’s often partially hydrogenated, which means it has unhealthy trans fats. It’s also high in omega-6 fatty acids, which have been linked with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. It is definitely another one to avoid.
This has a high smoke point and a low saturated fat level, but it can form dangerous free radicals when exposed to heat or oxygen. Polyunsaturated safflower oils contain a lot of linoleic acid and may produce free radicals when exposed to heat. A more recent study in 2013 also found that eating omega-6 fats like those in safflower oil may lead to a higher risk of heart problems.
Wait a minute… isn’t this supposed to be healthy? I see it in ads everywhere and it’s known as the ‘heart healthy’ oil. Well here’s the deal. Canola oil contains health-promoting omega-9 fatty acids, and has some omega-3s as well. It has a high smoke point and a neutral flavor. Yet it has a good amount of omega-6 fatty acids, which may lead to health problems. It also goes rancid quite easily and can form high concentrations of trans fatty acids. Canola oil almost always comes from GMO crops which is why I avoid it all together.
About half of this oil is made up of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are unstable. Also contains a good amount of omega-6 fatty acids.
Another oil that can produce harmful chemicals when heated. It’s also high in omega-6 fatty acids, and has only a medium-high smoke point. It is another oil that comes almost exclusively from GMO crops and so should be avoided.
What is your favorite healthy oil to cook with? Do you have any other suggestions that aren’t on the list?
Check out this great chart that lists cooking oils and their smoke points:
|Cooking Oils / Fats||Smoke Point °C||Smoke Point °F||Omega-6: Omega-3 Ratio (plus other relevant fat information)|
|Unrefined flaxseed oil||107°C||225°F||1:4|
|Unrefined safflower oil||107°C||225°F||133:1|
|Unrefined sunflower oil||107°C||225°F||40:1|
|Unrefined corn oil||160°C||320°F||83:1|
|Unrefined high-oleic sunflower oil||160°C||320°F||40:1, 84% monosaturated|
|Extra virgin olive oil||160°C||320°F||73% monounsaturated, high in Omega 9|
|Unrefined peanut oil||160°C||320°F||32:1|
|Semirefined safflower oil||160°C||320°F||133:1, (75% Omega 9)|
|Unrefined soy oil||160°C||320°F||8:1 (most are GMO)|
|Unrefined walnut oil||160°C||320°F||5:1|
|Hemp seed oil||165°C||330°F||3:1|
|Butter||177°C||350°F||9:1, Mostly saturated & monosaturated|
|Semirefined canola oil||177°C||350°F||2:1 [(56% Omega 9), 80% Canola is GMO]|
|Coconut oil||177°C||350°F||86% healthy saturated, lauric acid (has antibacterial, antioxidant, and antiviral properties). Contains 66% medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).|
|Unrefined sesame oil||177°C||350°F||138:1|
|Semirefined soy oil||177°C||350°F||8:1|
|Vegetable shortening||182°C||360°F||mostly unhealthy saturated, Trans Fat|
|Lard||182°C||370°F||mostly unhealthy saturated|
|Macadamia nut oil||199°C||390°F||1:1, 80% monosaturated, (83% Omega-9)|
|Canola oil (Expeller Pressed)||200°C||400°F||2:1, 62% monounsaturated, 32% polyunsaturated|
|Refined canola oil||204°C||400°F||3:1, 80% of Canola in US in GMO|
|Semirefined walnut oil||204°C||400°F||5:1|
|High quality (low acidity) extra virgin olive oil||207°C||405°F||13:1, 74% monosaturated (71.3% Omega 9)|
|Grapeseed oil||216°C||420°F||676:1, (12% saturated, 17% monounsaturated)|
|Virgin olive oil||216°C||420°F||13:1, 74% monosaturated (71.3% Omega 9)|
|Almond oil||216°C||420°F||Omega-6 only|
|Hazelnut oil||221°C||430°F||75% monosaturated (no Omega 3, 78% Omega 9)|
|Refined corn oil||232°C||450°F||83:1|
|Palm oil||232°C||450°F||46:1, mostly saturated and monosaturated|
|Palm kernel oil||232°C||450°F||82% saturated (No Omega 3)|
|Refined high-oleic sunflower oil||232°C||450°F||39:1, 84% monosaturated|
|Refined peanut oil||232°C||450°F||2:1|
|Semirefined sesame oil||232°C||450°F||138:1|
|Refined soy oil||232°C||450°F||8:1 (most are GMO)|
|Semirefined sunflower oil||232°C||450°F||40:1|
|Olive pomace oil||238°C||460°F||74% monosaturated, high in Omega 9|
|Extra light olive oil||242°C||468°F||74% monosaturated, high in Omega 9|
|Rice Bran Oil||254°C||490°F||21:1, Good source of vitamin E & antioxidants|
|Soybean oil||257°C||495°F||8:1 (most are GMO)|
|Refined Safflower oil||266°C||510°F||133:1 (74% Omega 9)|
|Avocado oil||271°C||520°F||12:1, 70% monosaturated, (68% Omega-9 fatty acids) High in vitamin E|
Chart by Jon Barron or staff member at The Baseline of Health Foundation. Material originally published at www.jonbarron.org. Copyright © 1999-2011. Baseline of Health® Foundation Used by permission of the Baseline of Health® Foundation. All rights reserved worldwide.
Helpful article, thanks. One question though -the article says that the smoke point at 450 but the table lists it at 350…
Oversight on my part. I fixed it up!!
I’m a newbie at clean eating and I have been confused about which oils to use. This article is very helpful. Thank you!